Leading Australian businessman donates to MND research after wife falls ill

May 10, 2016 5:28 am 

MELBOURNE, May 9 — The founder of one of Australia's most iconic clothing brands has made a generous donation to the University of Melbourne and collaborative researchers in the search for a cure of Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

John Laidlaw, whose family created the well-known workwear brand, Hard Yakka, in the 1930s, made the 750,000 U.S-dollar donation to begin clinical trials of a "promising" new drug to combat the disease, which recently struck down his wife, Betty.

MND is a degenerative disease which impacts the brain's ability to send messages around the body and eventually affects a victim's movement, speech and breathing patterns.

The Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia, the research branch of MND Australia, on Monday announced a University of Melbourne-led team had won a competitive application process for the funding provided by Laidlaw.

In animal modelling and human-tissue testing, Australian researchers found the new drug — known as Copper ATSM — could slow the progression of symptoms which accompanied the onset of the debilitating disease.

Dr Peter Crouch, a member of the small team who conducted the preliminary laboratory testing of the new MND drug, told Xinhua the funding was an "important step," opening the door for clinical trials to take place.

"The Laidlaw family has been incredibly generous in giving us this money," Crouch, from the University of Melbourne's Department of Pathology, said in an interview on Monday.

"The 1 million-(Australian)-dollar grant means we can continue our work for at least the next three years, which is just a fantastic outcome."

More than 2,000 Australians have the progressive, terminal neurological disease, according to MND Australia.

The Australian group also estimates that around 350,000 people have MND worldwide, of whom 100,000 die annually.

While acknowledging Copper ATSM probably cannot offer mankind a cure, Crouch said the drug had the potential to drastically improve MND sufferers' quality of life, post-diagnosis.

"Some of the outcomes that we've been getting with the drug are pretty remarkable," he told Xinhua on Monday.

"The caveat to that is a remarkable outcome in a mouse doesn't always translate to a remarkable outcome in a person."

"But in terms of the early tests (the drug) has been very encouraging."

The University of Melbourne has been collaborating with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Monash University, the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, the University of Sydney and Oregon State University for the "team-orientated" initiative.

Despite many years of research, Crouch said there was still more to learn about the drug's capabilities.

"We currently have an expanding knowledge of how the drug works, " he said in the interview with Xinhua.

"Everyone knows what Motor Neurone Disease does to a person who' s unfortunate enough to have the disease — the relentlessly progressive deterioration of muscle capacity."

"The animals that we tested showed the same symptom progression (as humans with MND). The drug protects motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain, and because of that (the animal's) ability to walk around is greatly improved."

Crouch said he expected the drug's clinical trials to get underway later this year.

However, before the trials can begin, Crouch's team will modify the drug so it can be properly administered to participants. (PNA/Xinhua)



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